All too often inventors and entrepreneurs spend so much time creating that they lose perspective. They have their head down, plowing forward, focusing only on the day-to-day operations associated with inventing and growing a business. Almost without fail, inventors know very well what they have invented and what they plan to do, but they have a terrible sense of what their invention could be.
There is something peculiar about the inventively creative mind that all too frequently causes inventors to get stuck in one lane. An important part of creating a valuable invention is to creatively imagine how and where the invention could be deployed in a variety of different contexts. An invention that can be implemented in a variety of different settings turns something nice into something potentially very special. See Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention.
Throughout my career I have had many conversations with a number of different inventors who all thought that we didn’t understand the invention because the first draft of the patent application seemed to miss the simplicity of his invention. Our job as patent attorneys is to not only try and protect the invention presented, but to work with the inventor to figure out the full glory of what the invention could be and what it could evolve into. Furthermore, characterizing an invention as simple is a mistake of enormous proportions. What you have is not simple, but rather an elegant solution that can take a variety of forms. Because if it is simple the patent examiner will almost certainly reject the patent claims as being obvious. The point here is two-fold: (1) Expansively describe the variations and alternatives to capture the full available scope; and (2) simple inventions are obvious, so don’t ever trivialize your own invention. See When is an invention obvious.
A patent application should certainly protect what the inventor is doing and what they want to do, but remember that in order to get a patent you do not have to produce a working prototype. You just need to be able to explain the invention with sufficient detail so that others skilled in the relevant technology area could both make and use the invention themselves without having to engage in undue experimentation. What is “undue experimentation” is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say that invariably what the “invention” is from a patent perspective is much broader than what an inventor thinks they have, and that is one critical reason (among many) why if you can afford to hire a patent attorney or patent agent you are always going to be better served by doing so and will wind up with much broader protection than doing it yourself. Inventors will either hyper focus on the invention and leave much available patent scope not captured, or they will play coy and only describe things in the most general terms, thereby hiding the invention specifics and rendering any application fatally defective. Particular attention must be paid to guarding against both tendencies. See Appropriately Disclosing an Invention.
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I constantly preach to inventors and entrepreneurs that they need to approach inventing in a business responsible way. That means that you should have immediate, short-term, intermediate and long-term goals and plans in place. Treat the invention from day one as if it will be wildly successful because if you don’t it will be too late once you realize that this is the homerun you have always dreamed about.
Appropriate planning will include, among many other things, giving consideration to what the next several phases of development will be if phase 1 turns out to be successful enough to warrant phase 2 and beyond. By doing this you will start to fill out those short-term, intermediate and long-term goals, which if they can be defined enough on paper can and should be integrated into your patent application. Always think about where you want to go and how you want to get there, as well as thinking about what the competition may want to do to elbow their way into your turf if you are successful. The business reality is if you are successful there will be others who want to get into your marketplace and compete against you; that is economics 101. So treat your patent application as a master plan and an integral part of your business development.
It is also critical for inventors and entrepreneurs to have a strategy to succeed, which seems simple enough, but is typically anything but simple for the creative types that are so good at inventing. The goal is not to create an invention that is cool, the goal is not to get a patent, but rather the goal is to make money. Having a cool invention and an issued patent are a means to the end, not the end in and of themselves. There will be no money truck show up on your doorstep simply because you have invented something, and neither will one show up when you get a patent. So you must consider what it is you want to do with a patent as a part of an overall business strategy.
If you approach your patent activities appropriately you can lay the foundation of a business plan, at least insofar as the technology and technological advancement of your innovation is concerned. But like almost everything in life, there is a cost associated with succeeding. The cost is hard work to be sure, but there will also be significant financial requirements as well. While you may need to bootstrap your invention and business, as you move forward you will invariably need funding, from Angel investors to start, and maybe from Venture Capitalists eventually. The more business responsible you have been along the way the more likely you are to be taken seriously. Inventors cannot under estimate the importance of being taken seriously.
Fatih Ozluturk is a prolific inventor with over 200 issued patents. His patents have resulted in over $1 billion in licensing revenue. Ozluturk is now an Angel investor and works with incubators in New York City. I interviewed him earlier this year and he explained to me that when he sees inventors taking business appropriate steps it creates a positive perception. See Provisional patents are like chicken soup, good for everybody. Ozluturk explained:
When I look at a company and see that the founders took the time to file patent applications, whether I believe that the patents will issue or not, it indicates to me that this is a group of entrepreneurs that understand their technology, they take it seriously, they run their business as a serious enterprise. They protect their intellectual assets. They’re seeing it as something more serious than just a weekend project. So it indicates to me a certain level of seriousness and attention to what they’re creating. And it indicates to me a certain level of pride in what they’re creating. This is regardless of whether their patents eventually issue or not. To me, making the effort and filing a provision application always reflects well on the company.
Regardless of what you may have read or been told, investors love patents and a coherent patent strategy. Patents provide a competitive advantage, and those sophisticated in business know enough to look for and exploit whatever competitive advantage exists. Patents are the 800 pound gorilla of competitive advantage, but realize if you are going to want and need significant sums of money from investors rarely does a single invention or patent command attention. No one wants to invest significant funds into a company that has a one-and-done approach to innovation. That is why the most valuable inventions will have applicability in a variety of fields, and will have a variety of different implementations, alternatives and variations.
Patents act as a barrier to entry and you want that barrier to be as high as possible. You need to understand the road is long. Take a lesson from Apple, Inc. Innovate and then churn your innovation for all its worth, re-purposing the technology, expanding into products and services, constantly push the envelope and milk the golden goose for all its worth!
For more information on patent application drafting please see:
- Patent Drawings and Invention Illustrations, What do you Need? May 30 2015
- The Key to Drafting an Excellent Patent – Alternatives May 23 2015
- Patent Strategy: Building a patent portfolio with meaningful rights May 09 2015
- Patent Strategy: Laying the Foundation for Business Success May 02 2015
- The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US Apr 04 2015
- An Inventor’s Guide to Being Taken Seriously by Patent Attorneys Mar 28 2015
- Provisional patents are like chicken soup, good for everybody Feb 24 2015
- The Business Responsible Approach to Patents and Inventing Feb 07 2015
- A beginner’s guide to patents and the patent process Jan 31 2015
- Every invention starts with an idea Jan 24 2015
- Patent Drafting: Identifying the Patentable Feature Jan 17 2015
- Patent Drafting: Thinking outside the box leads to the best patent Jan 03 2015
- How to Know When You’re Ready to File a Nonprovisional Patent Application Nov 08 2014
- Are you Ready to File a Provisional Patent Application? Oct 25 2014
- The Importance of Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention Oct 18 2014
- Why Inventors Should Not Rely On Their Own Search Oct 11 2014
- Patent Drafting: Ambiguity and Assumptions are the Enemy Sep 27 2014
- Patent Drafting: Appropriately Disclosing Your Invention Aug 30 2014
- How to Describe an Invention in a Patent Application Aug 09 2014
- Patent Drawings 101: The Way to Better Patent Applications Aug 02 2014
- Understanding Patent Claims Jul 12 2014
- Different Types of U.S. Patent Applications Jul 05 2014
- Utility Patent Applications – Content and Substance Jun 28 2014
- Moving from Idea to Patent – When Do You Have an Invention? Jun 21 2014
- The Patent Process on a Tight But Realistic Budget Jun 14 2014
- The Risk of Not Immediately Filing a Patent Application Jun 07 2014
- Patent Drafting: Not as Easy as You Think May 17 2014
- The Story of How Patents Promote Innovation May 12 2014
- Completely Describe Your Invention in a Patent Application May 10 2014
- Why Do You Want a Patent? Feb 08 2014
- When is an Invention Obvious? Feb 01 2014
- A Better Mouse Trap: Patents and the Road to Riches Dec 21 2013
- Keep Your Money In Your Wallet Until Proof of Concept Nov 23 2013
- The Benefits of a Provisional Patent Application Sep 14 2013
- Turn Your Idea into an Invention with a Good Description Sep 01 2013
- Patent Drafting: What is the Patentable Feature? Aug 17 2013
- Should I File a Patent Before Licensing the Invention? Aug 11 2013
- Strong Design Patents: The Power of The Broken Line Jul 30 2013
- What is a Patent? Understanding Patents and Patent Law 101 Jun 29 2013
- Patent Claim Drafting 101: The Basics May 25 2013
- A Brave New Patent World – First to File Becomes Law Mar 16 2013
- Applying for a Patent in the U.S. Feb 23 2013
- Patent Searches: A Great Opportunity to Focus on What is Unique Dec 22 2012
- Don’t be Fooled, Drafting Patents is Complicated Dec 20 2012
- A Beginner’s Guide to Patents and the Patent Process Dec 01 2012
- The Business Responsible Approach to Inventing Sep 22 2012
- Inventing 101: Protecting Your Invention When You Need Help Sep 21 2012
- Patent Reality: Basement Prices Mean Basement Quality Aug 11 2012
- Understanding Obviousness: John Deere and the Basics Jun 16 2012
- Patent Drafting: Describing What is Unique Without Puffing May 26 2012